As the Palestinian uprising has continued, one of its most vocal—and controversial—supporters has been Mubarak Awad, a Christian Arab who was born in Jerusalem. Awad came to the United States in 1970 and studied at several schools, including Bluffton College, a Mennonite school in Ohio. Awad returned to Israel in 1983 on an American passport and began to advocate civil disobedience and nonviolence as the best methods to protest the Israeli presence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The Israeli government deported Awad last July, and he has spent the past months traveling around the world in an effort to bolster support for the Palestinians. CHRISTIANITY TODAY spoke with Awad during a recent visit to Washington, D.C.
You have charged that American evangelicals care more about Jews than Christians in the Middle East. What makes you say that?
About 10 percent of Palestinians living there are Christians. Yet when American Christians visit the Middle East, they don’t seek out Christians. Apparently, they think the Holy Land is only for Jews and Muslims, and that hurts us a lot.
Also, when American Christians give their uncritical support to Israel we wonder about the moral vision of the church. The church is supposed to be with the oppressed, not the oppressor. Of course, the dilemma for American Christians is that the Jews were once oppressed—the church itself was the oppressor. So I realize it is a very sensitive issue.
Some have criticized you for your support of thePLOwhile at the same time advocating nonviolence. How do you reconcile this?
Some in the PLO are indeed committed to violence, but that doesn’t mean all the PLO is. It is important to encourage those in the PLO who do not believe in violence so that they will influence the others who are quick to take up arms.
When you were deported last summer, you made statements implying you might convert to Judaism in order to return to Israel. Is this something you are considering?
I was willing to change my religion—not my faith or beliefs—in order to make a political point. If I was a Jew with an American passport, I could have stayed as long as I wanted. I could have extended my visa a hundred times. As I said to the Supreme Court there, as a Christian, I do not have justice in a Jewish court. It is a sad thing for me as a Christian to have to change my religion in order to stay in my birthplace.
Where is all the turmoil leading?
We do not want to destroy the Israelis—and they cannot destroy us—so let’s have a new reality. I was more than glad that the PLO started talking about nonviolence. Maybe at first they used the worst method, with the gun and terrorism, but now they are much more mature. They are willing to negotiate. Now that we are accepting Israel, we have become a challenge to the Israelis and Americans. It was easier to deal with us when we were terrorists, but now they cannot deal with us when we talk peace.
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